What is a Vaginal Yeast Infection?
A vaginal yeast infection is when there is an overgrowth of normally occurring yeast (candida albicans) in your vagina. It is sometimes called monilia or candidiasis. Approximately 75 percent of all women experience a yeast infection sometime in their life.
What Are the Symptoms of a Vaginal Yeast Infection?
The most obvious symptom of a yeast infection is a white discharge from your vagina. This discharge is thick and lumpy, resembling cottage cheese. Some women also experience itching, soreness, irritation or burning in the vaginal area. You may notice a rash or redness outside the vagina and may experience pain during intercourse.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
The fungal organism, candida albicans, causes the majority of yeast infection. The yeast normally lives in your gastrointestinal tract, mucous membranes of your vagina, mouth and nose, and your skin. Usually, your body keeps candida albicans low through naturally produced bacteria. However, there are times when your body does not produce enough of this bacteria and a yeast infection occurs. This might happen when you are taking antibiotics, using hormonal birth control that contains estrogen and sometimes when you use inserted contraception, such as diaphragms, IUDs and sponges.
Who is at Risk of Developing Yeast Infections?
The majority of women experience a yeast infection at some time in their lives. While women can develop a yeast infection at any time, it is most common during childbearing years. Women who are pregnant, have diabetes or have immunosuppression have a higher risk of developing yeast infections. Other risk factors include:
- Lack of sleep
- Eating extreme amounts of sugary foods
- Hormonal changes due to menstrual cycle
Do I Need to See my Doctor if I Think I Have a Yeast Infection?
If you believe you have a yeast infection, you should contact your doctor. Symptoms of yeast infections can be similar to those of STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea so it is best to have a doctor determine the exact cause of your symptoms.
How Will my Doctor Know if it is a Yeast Infection?
Your doctor will do a pelvic exam and look at the external signs, such as rash, redness and swelling. He may also take a swab of fluid from your vagina and examine it under a microscope or send it to a lab for further testing.
How are Yeast Infections Treated?
Yeast infections are normally treated with a cream or other medication that is inserted into your vagina. These are available in a special applicator, similar to a tampon applicator or a suppository which dissolves when in the vagina. There are also topical creams that can be used to help treat the itching on the outside of your vagina.
There are creams available over-the-counter that work to treat yeast infections. If you have been diagnosed with yeast infections in the past and are sure you have a yeast infection, these may be a good treatment method. However, if you aren't sure if you have a yeast infection or if you are having severe or recurring yeast infections, you should speak with your doctor about a prescription strength cream.
There is also an oral antifungal medication that your doctor can prescribe, however, this medication kills fungus and yeast throughout your body and can cause side effects such as stomach aches or headaches. If you are pregnant, you should not take this medication and should contact your doctor if you have or suspect a yeast infection.
Is my Partner at Risk if We Have Intercourse While I Have a Yeast Infection?
Yeast infections are not considered STDs, however, some men do experience redness or a rash after intercourse with a woman with a yeast infection. If your partner is not circumcised, he is at higher risk of developing an infection. Most men do not experience any problems.
There is little research on whether lesbians are at risk for spreading yeast infections to their partner, however, if you do have sex with a same-sex partner, she should be aware of your yeast infection and look for signs. If she experiences any symptoms, she should speak with her doctor.
Is There Anything I Can Do to Prevent Yeast Infections?
Because some of the risk factors for yeast infections include lifestyle choices, you should be sure to take care of yourself, getting a good night's sleep and eating right are always important. In addition, you should avoid using douches or scented hygiene products like bubble baths, and sprays. Other ways to help prevent yeast infections:
- Changing tampons often
- Wearing cotton underwear and pantyhose with a cotton crotch
- Changing wet bathing suits and clothes as soon as possible
- Avoiding very hot baths
- Avoiding using hot tubs
- Don't use colored or perfumed toilet paper
"Vaginal Yeast Infections," Reviewed 2010, Aug, Staff Writer, American Academy of Family Physicians
"Vaginal Yeast Infections Fact Sheet," Updated 2008, Sept 23, Staff Writer, WomensHealth.gov
"Yeast Infection (Vaginal)," 2010, May 18, Mayo Clinic Staff, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research